German team attacks cancer cell microtubules with chemo and blue light

Cancer cell with microtubules (in white) highlighted under a green light--Courtesy of LMU

German researchers have come up with an approach for chemotherapy that would allow the medication to be activated inside a patient when hit with light.

Many successful chemotherapeutic drugs interfere with cancer cells' microtubules, which are necessary for their survival. The researchers from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München identified these structures and replaced them with elements that would respond to a blue light, hindering the cells' activity.

The photostatins that inhibit this activity can be activated without affecting other cells. And they could be used in many different settings--because they require only blue light, a patient could wear specialized glasses, for instance, to get the chemotherapy started on his or her eyes. Or wear a bandage with blue sensitivity to attack skin cancer.

The same cancer cell under blue light, with fewer microtubules active, thus inhibiting the cell's activity--Courtesy of LMU

"We can then use light to switch the hinged drug on and off, where and when we want, with single-cell precision," lead author Dirk Trauner said in a statement. "The upshot is that our compounds retain the powerful anticancer effects of existing microtubule inhibitors, but add the bonus of tissue-specific localization."

"The field of photopharmacology is very young, so it may take some time for the pharmaceutical industry to recognize the value of these compounds," co-author Oliver Thorn-Seshold said. "Yet, if our ongoing studies are successful, we will have a convincing proposition for further preclinical development, and we are committed to getting as far into real therapy as we can."

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